Off-Broadway Review: “Newton’s Cradle” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Newton’s Cradle” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Closed on Sunday August 7, 2016)
Book and Additional Lyrics by Kim Saunders
Music and Lyrics by Heath Saunders
Directed by Victoria Clark
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Newton’s Cradle” is an earnest attempt to create a serious musical that sheds some light on the subject of Autism by revealing some significant situations experienced by Evan Newton, who is living with this disorder. It joins the ranks alongside the Broadway play “Curious Incident” in trying to bring to the forefront the consequences associated with this condition and how they affect relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. The play takes place over a series of summers at the family cabin just outside Denali National Park in Alaska at three different stages of Evan’s life, as a child, an adolescent and a young man. These stories are interwoven throughout the two hour production and do nothing more than create situations that enable a character to engage in musical numbers that are laden with exposition dialogue and do nothing to move the plot forward. The book by Kim Saunders needs to focus more on character development to achieve an emotional connection with the audience which convinces them to care. The music by Heath Saunders is interesting in that its unmelodic structure mimics the mental and physical synapses that sometime surface in Evan. The lyrics are derivative of Sondheim and too intellectual and informative, rather than emotional.

The cast is first rate and is committed to the material. Heath Saunders creates a sensitive, vulnerable Evan with an equally pure, precise and charming vocal. As brother Michael, Trent Saunders is engaging and steadfast even when sabotaged by some unbelievable situations in the book. Rose Hemingway gives a solid performance as a spunky, thoughtful and intelligent Chelsea in fine vocal form. Rachel Kara Perez is determined and solicitous, staying focused to produce a believable Charlie. David Dewitt establishes the confused, conflicted and fickle father, Nate with conviction. The powerful, impassioned vocals of Andrea Jones-Sojola is a redeeming element of this musical, seizing the opportunity to fill Audrey, the mother of Evan, with a fervent spirit and enduring soul.

Director Victoria Clark puts all the pieces of this puzzle together with a firm hand, but unfortunately it does not create a successful production. Choreographer Sara Brians infuses cognitive movement into scenes that compliments the action. At this stage of development, the creative team needs to step back, regroup and decide what they are attempting to communicate and more so how they can better tell this endearing story.